This week I read the first three books in Marilyn's Kaye's Gifted series. Three other titles are slated for publication later this year (Book 4: Finder's Keepers, Book 5: Now You See Me, and Book 6: Speak No Evil). This is an original paperback series, aimed at middle school age readers. The books feature a group of nine middle school students who, along with their regular classes, meet once a day for a special "gifted" class. Here gifted refers not to academic ability, but to paranormal ability. Each student has a special skill, such as mind-reading, turning invisible, or predicting the future.
In the first book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, the narrative viewpoint shifts between that of popular mean girl Amanda and loner bad girl Jenna. We learn that Amanda's talent (or curse) is that when she feels sorry for someone, she leaves her own body and inhabits theirs (leaving a sort of programmed clone in her own body). When Amanda, in spite of her best efforts to remain mean and unsympathetic to everyone around her, lands in the body of fellow student Tracey, both girls are changed by the experience. Jenna, a mind-reader, figures out what's going on, and together Amanda-Tracey and Jenna work to mitigate a threat towards another classmate, visionary Emily.
In the second book, Better Late than Never, Amanda is back in her own body, and pretty much back to being a mean girl who shuns her fellow gifted classmates. She does, however, start to show some interest in popular jock Ken (who can speak to the dead). Meanwhile, when Jenna's long-lost father appears out of nowhere, Tracey raises questions about his true intentions.
In Book 3, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, several of the students are threatened, and in fact they start disappearing one by one. It's up to Emily to use her highly unreliable gift for prediction to figure out what's going on and save her friends.
All three books are very quick reads. They read like installments in a single story, rather than standalone titles. There are various threads left to be resolved in future books, from individual questions about the students (what accident led to Ken's gift, and why is Sarah so reluctant to use hers?) to the implication of a large-scale conspiracy to take advantage of the teens' gifts. The mysteries aren't particularly suspenseful - kids will be able to see all of the bad guys coming, but they are entertaining.
One thing that I like about the books is that the characters are far from perfect. Amanda is vain and shallow, though she does help the people around her from time to time. Jenna is from a disadvantaged home, and values her status as goth loner-girl. But she finds it surprisingly nice to have a few friends. Tracey is the older sister of a set of septuplets, and her family life adds a bit of comic relief to the series. most of the students are haunted in some way or another by their gifts, and also struggle to control their abilities. Many of their abilities seem to have evolved, in fact, from circumstances in their personal lives (Like Charles, the kid in a wheelchair who can move objects with his mind, for example).
I'm not sure how well these books will hold up for adult readers. Marilyn Kaye has a slight tendency to rely on coincidences in her plotting. The middle school setting is largely cardboard (popular girls in the bathroom putting on makeup, jocks picking on the boy in the wheelchair, etc.). The school could be set anywhere - there's nothing unique about it.
However, I think that the Gifted books are worth a look for middle school libraries. Especially once the next three books come out (between April and October of this year). I found them quite readable now, and I think that I would have read them compulsively when I was 12. I mean, what middle schooler wouldn't like to think about what they'd do if they were invisible or could read the teacher's mind? The Gifted books are also quite suitable for fifth and sixth graders, age-wise. While there's some talk about dating, it's of the passing notes variety - there's no real attraction going on. Personally, I found these books just the thing to take my mind off of work-related stress during a rainy week in February.
Publication Date: June 9 - October 9, 2009
Source of Book: Review copies from Blue Slip Media
Other Blog Reviews: Curling Up by the Fire, A Good Addiction, The Story Siren, Reading Junky's Reading Roost. See also an author interview at Shelf Elf.
© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).